United's League Cup semi-final story
Manchester United’s upcoming Carabao Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest will mark our 17th involvement in the final four of this particular competition.
The Reds entered the inaugural edition of the League Cup, played in the 1960/61 season, but we were knocked out in the second round by third-tier Bradford City.
With a European place for the winner not guaranteed until later in the decade and compulsory entry only introduced in 1971, United, not alone out of the major clubs, did not take part in six of the next seven tournaments.
However, in 1970 the Reds beat Middlesbrough, Wrexham, Burnley and Derby County to reach our first League Cup semi-final – an all-Manchester affair against Joe Mercer’s City.
Unfortunately, we ended up losing that tie by the odd goal in seven, but there have been happier semi-final moments down the years, with Erik ten Hag aiming to secure a 10th United final in this tournament.
Here’s our League Cup semi-finals story, decade-by-decade…
The ‘70s were, all in all, not a glorious decade for the club and we actually lost all three of the semi-finals we progressed to – the first two coming under the tenure of Sir Matt Busby’s successor, Wilf McGuinness. That ding-dong tie with City ended 4-3 on aggregate to our crosstown rivals, with Mike Summerbee’s 68th-minute goal in the second leg at Old Trafford proving crucial. The Blues went on to lift the trophy at Wembley.
Twelve months on and, despite the best efforts of Brian Kidd, who scored a goal in each leg, United were defeated 3-2 by Aston Villa two days before Christmas and a week later McGuinness would be replaced by Busby at the helm. Our third and final semi heartbreak of the 1970s arrived during our year-long exile in the second division. Norwich City, who had been relegated from the top-flight with us the previous season, ran out 3-2 winners thanks to Colin Suggett’s deciding goal at Carrow Road.
1969/70 – United 3 Man City 4
1970/71 – United 2 Villa 3
1974/75 – United 2 Norwich 3
United’s first success at this stage of the competition arrived under the stewardship of Ron Atkinson, as we memorably put Arsenal to the sword. Norman Whiteside, Frank Stapleton and Steve Coppell (twice) scored as the Reds raced into a four-goal lead at Highbury, before two late Gunners goals restored a little home pride. Atkinson’s men were never really in trouble during the Old Trafford return eight days later, with Coppell again on the scoresheet. Liverpool would go on to deny us in the final, although our six-year silverware drought was eventually ended in that season’s FA Cup.
1982/83 – United 6 Arsenal 3
Alex Ferguson’s improving side was hungry for trophies at the beginning of the 1990s and we won three semi-finals in the space of four years – a run which included, finally, our first League Cup success, in 1992. Lee Sharpe scored decisive goals as we beat Leeds home and away before Sheffield Wednesday got the better of us in a tight final but a year later we were back at Wembley after Ryan Giggs volleyed home in extra time to see off Middlesbrough’s semi-final challenge. This time, the cup was United’s as Brian McClair poked home after 14 minutes, giving us the victory over Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
A never-done-before domestic treble was on the cards for much of 1993/94, as United built up an insurmountable Premier League lead and progressed in both cups. A 4-1 thrashing of Wednesday at Hillsborough – Mark Hughes scored twice, after efforts from McClair and Andrei Kanchelskis – well and truly laid the final disappointment of three years earlier to rest, although further heartbreak awaited Ferguson’s side in the shape of Aston Villa, now managed by Atkinson, who had vanquished us with the Owls.
1990/91 – United 3 Leeds 1
1991/92 – United 2 Middlesbrough 1
1993/94 – United 5 Sheffield Wednesday 1
After a short period where the League Cup was firmly bottom of United’s priority list, Sir Alex’s side became regulars in the latter stages. Holders Blackburn Rovers, spearheaded by former Reds hero Andy Cole, were eliminated in an entertaining semi-final in 2003, but the less said about the showpiece event – we lost 2-0 to Liverpool at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – the better.
A second League Cup triumph continued to prove elusive, as a strong Jose Mourinho side came to Old Trafford and won 2-1 in 2005, following a goalless first leg at Stamford Bridge, but a year later a young United side powered by Rooney, Ronaldo and Saha got the better of Rovers before blowing away Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the final. The decade ended with a third triumph, this time a penalty shootout victory over Tottenham. United had looked on the brink of a shock elimination by Derby in the semi-finals, after losing the first leg at Pride Park to a stunning effort from Kris Commons, but a 4-2 turnaround at home set the stage for Wembley joy.
2002/03 – United 4 Blackburn 2
2004/05 – United 1 Chelsea 2
2005/06 – United 3 Blackburn 2
2008/09 – United 4 Derby 3
A thrilling derby victory in January 2010 maintained – for one last season – a nascent City’s decades-long wait for a major trophy, as Wayne Rooney headed home in front of the Stretford End in stoppage time to settle a rollercoaster tie, during which the returning Carlos Tevez had threatened to spoil our hopes for a second consecutive League Cup triumph, scoring all three City goals. An equally-as-dramatic final required intervention from Michael Owen and Rooney to prevent Aston Villa taking home the trophy, after James Milner’s early converted penalty.
A potential City reunion was ruined by Sunderland in 2014, with the Black Cats prevailing 2-1 on spot-kicks in the aftermath of extra-time drama at Old Trafford. Three years later, the Reds successfully negotiated another potentially tricky semi-final draw, progressing past Hull despite a second-leg defeat and then beating Southampton 3-2 to win a fifth League Cup, courtesy of some Zlatan Ibrahimovic magic.
2009/10 – United 4 Man City 3
2013/14 – United 2 Sunderland 2 (lost on pens)
2016/17 – United 3 Hull 2
Let’s hope our recent record in the semi-finals of this competition improves when we do take on Forest. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reds were defeated by City in back-to-back years, with a 3-1 first-leg loss at Old Trafford proving crucial in 2020. Due to concerns around the fixture schedule amid the Covid pandemic, the following season’s semi-finals were played over just one leg. Despite having home advantage, we again fell victim to Pep Guardiola’s side, who went on to claim a record-equalling eighth success in the tournament.
2019/20 – United 2 Man City 3
2020/21 – United 0 Man City 2*
*Played over one leg